Tablet Buyer’s Guide: Back to School 2010

by Reads (18,877)

Tablet PCs, eReaders and media tablets are the perfect college and high school computing companion. Tablet PCs because of their pen-supported note-taking functionality (great for math equations and foreign languages), eReaders because of the growing eTextbook market and the savings it provides, and media tablets because… well, after studying long hours, students deserve to unwind and be entertained.

 

We’ve picked the top five tablet PCs, eBook readers and media tablets for students, judging each device by performance, relevance to education, and of course, price.

Tablet PCs | Media Tablets | eBook Readers

 

Tablet PCs

HP TouchSmart tm2t


HP TouchSmart tm2t

The HP TouchSmart tm2t is a consumer-friendly convertible tablet PC thanks to its attractive design and price. There’s no question, it’s a great-looking 12.1-inch convertible tablet and students can score a tm2t with an Intel Core i5 processor and switchable graphics, which should provide more than enough processing power for a student’s needs, for under $1,000. But most important to students looking to jot notes, HP worked hard to make the pen input both smooth and accurate. Judging from the early user buzz, they succeeded.

 

Toshiba Portege M780-S7230

Toshiba Portege M780-S7230

Toshiba built its reputation on quality laptops, and the Portege M780-S7230 is no exception. It offers the same responsive pen controls as the tm2t, but it does not support multitouch. So students will have to resist urges to pinch the screen. It would be higher on this list if not for the fact that it costs more than $1,500 at most retailers and is a bit bulkier than the HP TouchSmart tm2t. In fact, the Portege resembles a pizza box with its hard edges and thick width. With that bulk does come an optical drive, something the tm2t lacks. So if watching DVDs is important part of your academic success, the Portege is the answer.

 

Fujitsu LifeBook TH700

Fujitsu LifeBook TH700

Fujitsu released this 12.1-inch convertible tablet PC in June to compete with the tm2t as a consumer-friendly and entry-level tablet PC. Again, it’s the price that makes this unit good for students. Coming in at little more than $1,000, the TH700 sports a quality build with multi-touch and pen support. Fujitsu doesn’t offer the configuration options like HP, so students are stuck with the Intel Core i3 processor, but the tablet does have an optical drive.

 

Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t

Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t

The Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t is a netbook and a 10.1-inch tablet that supports both multitouch and pen input, and it’s also the least expensive device on this list. Lenovo is also very good at allowing customers to customize their devices, and a maxed out unit with Windows 7 Home Premium 32 bit and an Intel 1.83GHz Atom N470 should run around $600. It doesn’t ship with a stylus, so that adds a couple bucks to the total cost.

 

Toshiba Libretto W100

Toshiba Libretto W100

This is for the student who has to have the coolest gadgets in the dorm. The Libretto is a limited-edition dual-screen tablet that resembles a big Nintendo DS. It has two seven-inch touchscreens and four virtual keyboard alignments with sensory feedback. The virtual keys actually vibrate when pressed. On the spec side, it has a CULV 1.2GHz Intel Pentium U5400 processor, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, 62GB SSD and runs Windows 7 Home Premium. It’s not an especially practical device for a student, especially considering it will probably cost north of $1,000 when it ships later this month, but it’s arguably the most fun.

 

arrow How much can I save with eTextbooks?

NookstudyAccording to Osman Rashid, founding CEO of the textbook rental site Chegg.com and current CEO of Kno, students can save around 35% on textbooks if they opt for the digital version.

 

Conventional wisdom suggests the savings should be higher, especially considering that publishers don’t have to pay paper, ink and printing costs with eTextbooks, and all textbooks start as a PDF anyway. But printing is only a small percentage of the total. It’s actually marketing and sales that drives the cost of textbooks, not to mention research and writing.

 

Currently, the most expensive eTextbook on Amazon is Selected Nuclear Materials and Engineering Systems, and it runs a whopping $6,431.20. Care to guess how much research and marketing went into that title?

Media Tablets

Apple iPad (WiFi)

Apple iPad (WiFi)

The iPad is the simply the best media tablet available and there is no close second. In fact, each day, new student apps are released in the iTunes App Store that inch the iPad further ahead of the competition. Of course, Android devices that are only “months away” could give the iPad a run for its money when they are finally released, but for Back to School 2010, the Apple iPad is head of the class.

 

We prefer the iPad with WiFi to the 3G model for students simply because of price. The 3G models cost $130 more and they require a month-to-month AT&T data contract. That’s an extra $15 a month for 250MB, which is probably not enough for today’s bandwidth chomping students, or $25 for 2GB. We can think of better ways for students to spend their money considering the proliferation of WiFi networks on campuses and in classrooms.

 

Dell Streak

Dell Streak

Is the Dell Streak a tablet? Is it a phone? It’s actually both. With a five-inch screen, it sits smack in the middle between smartphones with displays topping 4.3 inches and the iPad with its 9.7-inch screen. The Dell Streak is also a functional phone, presumably for AT&T. For web surfing and watching movies, the Dell Streak has a screen resolution of 800 x 480, which is much less than the iPad, but suitable for the relatively smaller screen. It does support Adobe Flash, giving it the advantage in web video over the iPad.

Archos 7 Home Tablet

Archos 7 Home Tablet

The good news for students is that the Android-powered Archos 7 Home Tablet is only $199. The bad news is that you get what you pay for.

 

The Archos 7 does not support Flash or multitouch. It does not have GPS, video output or an accelerometer, and it runs the vanilla Android 1.5. All this means that Android app support is limited at best. But at a very basic level, it’s a tablet, and it works as a low-cost iPad alternative. Students can surf the web via WiFi, check email and stream some content on the 800 x 480 LCD screen, which supports 720p video.

 

Archos 5 Internet Tablet

Archos 5 Internet Tablet

The Archos 5 Internet Tablet was an impressive Android-powered device when it was released late last year, before the iPad was even announced. It has since lost much of its luster and that it even makes this list of top media tablets is less a comment on its quality than it is on the lack of competition in the market.

 

That said, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet specs hold up. They include an 800×480 pixels, 4.8-inch LCD touchscreen, WiFi, Bluetooh, limited Flash support, GPS and access to Android apps. It comes with internal storage ranging from 16GB ($300) to a whopping 500GB ($480).

 

Pandigital Novel eReader

Pandigital Novel eReader

Just how limited is the media tablet market this year? According to maker Pandigital, the seven-inch Novel is an eReader. Well, what the heck? Books are technically “media.”

 

Actually, the Novel specs are more closely aligned with media tablets than they are eReaders thanks to an 800 x 600 resistive LCD touchscreen and Google Android operating system. In fact, unlike Archos offerings, which are stuck with older versions, Pandigital claims the Novel will ship with the more recent Android 2.1. It also has full web access over its built-in b/g/n WiFi.

 

arrow TabletPCReview WikiReader Giveaway

We want to hear from you. We want to know which devices you want to see covered on TabletPCReview and the type of content that will make TabletPCReview the ultimate source for Android tablet, Apple iPad and eReader information on the Web.

 

Please check out the TabletPCReview Reader Survey and enter a drawing to win a WikiReader, a fun and useful device we called the “most informative time waster you can fit in your pocket” in our review, courtesy of Openmoko.

 

Also, be sure to check out our top tech picks in all categories by visiting our main buyer’s guide page on TechnologyGuide.com.

eBook Readers

enTourage eDGe

enTourage eDGe

The folks at enTourage actually prefer the term “dualbook” for their eDGe eBook reader. That’s because their device features two large displays: a 9.7-inch eInk screen and 10.1-inch LCD touchscreen. Both are sufficient sizes for large textbooks, which is probably what enTourage had in mind when they partnered with textbook publishers Elsevier, Encyclopedia Britannica, University of Chicago Press, Cengage Learning and O’Reilly Media.

 

Spring Design Alex eReader

Spring Design Alex eReader

This $400 eReader may be more expensive than the Kindle or Nook, but the Alex has the perfect combination of features for students. That includes a large touchscreen LCD for video, an onboard microphone, annotation reading feature and instant access to sites offering free and premium eBooks via WiFi.

 

Kindle DX

Kindle DX

With a 9.7-inch eInk display that features starker contrast than previous Kindle models, the $379 Kindle DX is the device best suited for more than 30,000 Kindle textbooks found on Amazon.com. The other Kindle models display sizes top out at six inches, which is not enough for large textbook pages full of charts and sidebars.

 

Aluratek Libre

Aluratek Libre

The Libre has two things going for it. At only $120, it is the least expensive eReader offered by Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Borders, and it ships with 100 classic titles preloaded on an SD card. As we said in our review, “the 100 preloaded classics is a comprehensive collection of required high school reading. I suspect a student could get at least four years of use out of the Libre library.”

Barnes & Noble Nook WiFi

Barnes & Noble Nook WiFi

Why the Nook WiFi and not the Nook WiFi with 3G? Because the Nook WiFi costs $50 less, mainly. Otherwise both devices are exactly the same, so if a cellular connection is worth the extra $50, by all means, grab the 3G Nook. The Nook is similar to the Alex in that it sports both an eInk and LCD touchscreen and both run Android. However, the Alex’s LCD is bigger, and the Nook lacks a microphone.

 

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